Mark: Provenance, Authorship and Literary Style. Pt I

This is the first in a three part series where we will look at the Gospel of Mark, seeking to understand a little of the reasons for accepting it’s primacy over the other three gospels (in terms of being the earliest written or not), authorship and whether or not a brand new literary style was invented by the author of Mark.  This series forms a complete essay written for my work toward a Masters Degree and I thought it interesting enough to post here for reading and discussion.

Pt I

For the greater part of the history of the church the Gospel of Mark has been sidelined as the “poor cousin”[1] to the Gospel of Matthew, rarely being preached upon by the Church Fathers and with very few commentaries being written on it, in fact none until the eighth century.  For the early church it was Matthew that was held to have priority over Mark.

Augustine was one Church Father who held Matthean priority over Markan, suggesting that, “Mark appears only as [Matthews] follower and abbreviator”[2] The view of Matthean Priority held for centuries until source critics[3] began questioning the primacy of Matthew.

…[tradition held] that Matthew was the first of the gospels to appear. In the latter half of the nineteenth century, the source critics established the priority of Mark over Matthew and Luke. The traditional “Second Gospel” became the first gospel.

Widespread scholarly consensus on the priority of Mark postualtes what is known as “the two-source hypothesis”[4]; i.e. Matthew and Luke had before them a copy of Mark, along with a saying s source (‘Q’) as they wrote their gospels.[5]  The so called ‘minor agreements’ between Matthew and Luke[6] against Mark, which are often cited for support by scholars not convinced of Markan priority, have some weight, however;

“The differing arrangement of this material in Matthew and Luke has been held to preclude a direct literary relationship between these Gospels and to require an indirect relationship, mediated by Q.[7]

The dating of Mark is, as with dating many of the biblical texts, fraught with difficulty.  Dates range from 35CE[8] (Crossley, The Date of Mark’s Gospel) to 70CE and even later.  Irenaeaus[9] taught that Mark wrote his Gospel in Rome following the death of Peter and Paul, which occurred during the persecution of Nero in around 64-67 CE.  Clement of Alexandria however taught that it was in Peter’s lifetime that Mark wrote the gospel at the behest of those who had heard Peter preach[10].

Internal evidence however, suggests a later date .

Mark 13:1-2 And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down”

Unless the text is taken as an actual prophecy (which is not impossible), this apparent allusion to the destruction of the Temple by the Romans places the date of writing at earliest 70CE.

The Author of Matthew speaks of Jewish places of worship as ‘…their synagogues”: Matthew 4:23; 9:35; 10:17; 12:9; 13:54. Christians used synagogues to worship in until 90CE when Jews excluded them from worshiping in them in 90CE[11].  This provides evidence for dating the writing of Matthew to 90CE at the earliest.  These proposed dates for the writing of Mark and Matthew further argue for Markan priority.


[1] Francis J. Moloney. The Gospel of Mark. A Commentary, Baker Academic, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2002. http://www.wtsbooks.com/common/pdf_links/9780801048418.pdf  See also William L. Lane, “From Historian to Theologian: Milestones in Markan Scholarship,” Review & Expositor 75.4 (Fall 1978): 601-617.

[2] Augustine, De consensu evangelistarum, 1.2 (PL 34:1044): as cited in Francis J. Moloney. The Gospel of Mark. A Commentary

[3] Francis J, Maloney The Gospel of Mark. A Commentary p2

[4] Ronald L. Troxel, Lecture 4: Markan Priority: Early Christian Gospels at http://hebrew.wisc.edu/~rltroxel/gospels/lect4.pdf

[5] Francis J, Maloney The Gospel of Mark. A Commentary, Baker Academic, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2002

[6] F. Neirynck, T.Hansen, and F. van Segbroeck, The Minor Agreements of Matthew and Luke against Mark, with a Cumulative List (BETL 37; Leuven: Leuven University Press,1974)

[7] Jeffery Peterson, Order in the Double Tradition and the Existence of Q, http://www.austingrad.edu/images/Resources/Peterson/Order%20in%20Double%20Tradition.pdf

[8] James G. Crossley, The Date of Mark’s Gospel: Insight from the Law in Earliest Christianity (JSNTSup 266; London/New York: T. & T. Clark [Continuum], 2004).

[9] Irenaeaus, Against Heresies, 3,1,1

[10] Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, vi.14.6f cited in D. Guthrie New Testament Introduction (revised) Intervarsity Press, 1990

[11] Kenneth L Carroll, The Gospel of John and the Exclusion of Christians From the Synagogues. https://www.escholar.manchester.ac.uk/api/datastream?publicationPid=uk-ac-man-scw:1m1947&datastreamId=POST-PEER-REVIEW-PUBLISHERS-DOCUMENT.PDF


56 thoughts on “Mark: Provenance, Authorship and Literary Style. Pt I

  1. “Unless the text is taken as an actual prophecy (which is not impossible),”

    I think it’s not only not impossible, but most probable. If Mark was written after AD70, why not talk more about the events in Jerusalem? That verse is an “allusion” to something that happened? A cataclysmic event that happened? I don’t buy it.

    “Irenaeaus[9] taught that Mark wrote his Gospel in Rome following the death of Peter and Paul, which occurred during the persecution of Nero in around 64-67 CE.”

    Might be worth noting that Irenaeus also said Matthew was written before Mark.

    “Internal evidence however, suggests a later date …..

    the next example of which is the term “their synagogues”:

    “Christians used synagogues to worship in until 90CE when Jews excluded them from worshiping in them in 90CE[11]. This provides evidence”

    Actually, I thought it was in 85CE but anyway, the expression “their synagogues”, is not conclusive evidence of anything. In the first reference given “their synagogues” is simply referring to the region of Galilee. But lets also remember that while Christians were not completely forbidden from all synagogues until a later date, there was already trouble – take a look at the events in the Book of Acts. At the very least, it wasn’t Christians who were heads of synagogues in the 50’s and 60’s. But the use of “their” isn’t strange at all. The readers of Matthew at whatever date were obviously seen as a different group to the Jews who didn’t accept Christ or even persecuted those Jews who preached Christ.

    But that’s my whole problem with many modern academics. They dismiss the overwhelming evidence of the writings of people who knew the Apostles and the disciples of the Apostles, and refer to “Internal evidence”, which is not evidence but their assumptions and leaps.

    So Iraneaeus, Tertullian, Eusebius, Papius, Origen etc were all wrong about who wrote the Book of Mark ( I assume the writer of this article will know doubt dispute that along with his teachers in the 20th century) and the timing, and they were really slow in picking up the clues like “their synagogue” and the “allusion” to the fall of Jerusalem.

    It’s just not convincing at all.

    But for those doing study, it will be easier to pass New Testament 101 if you just go with the current thinking. Because most of the people teaching Biblical Studies in Universities have no belief in the supernatural anyway.

    At least this guy thinks a prophecy in the Bible is “not impossible”.

  2. At least this guy thinks a prophecy in the Bible is “not impossible”.

    You’re quite right – this bloke, being me(!), does think its possible that its a prophecy. However it is just as possible that its not a prophecy Q. Why would you assume that it is just because the text says it is?

    If, as you point out Iraneaeus claims, that Matthew was written prior to Mark, how do you account for the 76% of Mark that is found in Matthew?

    Here’s a chart that shows how much of each is found in the others:

    It appears, at the very least, that Luke and Matthew relied upon Mark for a substantial amount of their content, in which case, Mark had to have been written first.

    This diagram shows the relationships between the ‘synoptic’gospels and a hypothetical document called Q (your namesake!)

  3. So Iraneaeus, Tertullian, Eusebius, Papius, Origen etc were all wrong about who wrote the Book of Mark

    You’ll have to wait until later this week to find out what I’ve said about that…it’s a bit presumptive of you to try and guess with no evidence!

    The above portion of my essay is merely outlining the current thinking around which gospel was written first, so it seems to me that you’re getting your nickers in a knot a tad early.

    But that’s my whole problem with many modern academics. They dismiss the overwhelming evidence of the writings of people who knew the Apostles and the disciples of the Apostles, and refer to “Internal evidence”, which is not evidence but their assumptions and leaps.

    Well my friend, that’s actually not true at all – most take the Church Fathers quite seriously – however they don;t immediately think everything they say is correct just because they lived closer to Jesus than us – they were still 30, 60 and a couple of hundred years from him and so can hardly be called eyewitnesses.

    Iraneaeus, Tertullian, Eusebius, Papius, Origen etc were not disciples of Christ nor even disciples of disciples! There are many scholars who consider that the later fathers actually just assume that Papias was correct in what he was saying about who wrote the Gospels – but hey, we’re not there yet!

  4. Haha. Sorry Mate.

    I didn’t read the first paragraph well enough and assumed it was someone else’s work. So then I assumed too much

    Impressed with your writing style.

    Delete that first comment of mine and I’ll rewrite it and go through the references more closely and show more respect. I was addressing things a lot more generally than just this post.

    And thanks for putting it up.
    Good stuff. It’s been a while since I studied this – have to get my brain in gear again.

    Also, great to see you are open to the prophecy idea. My teachers weren’t.

    Get back to you tonight!

  5. “However it is just as possible that its not a prophecy Q. Why would you assume that it is just because the text says it is?”

    You obviously don’t take the Gospels as Gospel. So what was the point of this article some weeks back :

    https://signposts02.wordpress.com/2014/02/27/local-church-full-of-brainwashed-idiots-feeds-towns-poor-every-week/

    It seemed to be a response to the various literary criticisms and arguments put forward mainly by Bones and myself against the literal reading of the Old Testament.

    We never said that people who believe these things can’t be good Christians , so what was your point?

  6. What did you think of this particular article?

    By the way, I didn’t have anyone on this blog in mind when I posted the brainwashed article…it was more aimed outward at people who love to take the intellectual high road and point at Christians and feel they are nothing but brainwashed sheep. Not you. Not Bones.

  7. Back again. A few quick answers.

    Q was just the first letter than came into my head. Q source, and Q from James Bond. Just thought it would be easy for people to type one letter. See how loving, caring and thoughtful I am?

    “Why would you assume that it is just because the text says it is?”

    Okay, I start with the premise that is the most obvious. That the gospels are records of the life of Jesus and what he said. So, I think Jesus said statement.

    Modern scholars start from the premise that there were different faith communities like the Johaninne community etc who all had their different ideas. But I start with the fact that even if there were such communities, they existed in the first place because of Jesus! So, instead of the author of Mark thinking “hey, I’ll put it Jesus saying something about the fall of Jerusalem that happened a few years back and that will be a cool allusion”, I think the author (and I see no reason to conclude that it was general knowledge in the Christian world that Jesus said certain things.

    I maybe sounding a little Roman Catholic here, but it’s definitely true that before there was a Bible (i.e. gospels and letters) the Apostles taught and conveyed what Jesus said. I don’t believe they just made it up as they went along. They were willing to die for what they believed Jesus said.

    So, we have four gospels talking about what Jesus did and what he said. Yes, perhaps they had different audiences. And they saw things from different perspectives. Some events in the life of Jesus and sayings were deemed to be so important and so worthy of being put down (as per the inspiration of the Holy Spirit) that some things were repeated by the different authors. I don’t think that’s strange at all. Neither do I think it means that they were just copying either. If My brothers and sisters wrote books about my parents or our childhood, there would no doubt be some events and some sayings of my dad that each would put down. (I realise I’m simplifying things here).

    Also, and you were right to pull me up about the Church Fathers – the ones I put down cover centuries.!

    But if the very early church fathers said that such and such was an author and they are hearing that from people very near in time – many times it’s a generation or two removed, I trust them first.

    So for me the onus is not on me to try and prove that the temple saying was a prophecy, or that Mark wrote that gospel when the people running the church said he did, but the onus is on the 20th century modern scholars to prove conclusively the new theories that they are putting forward.

    As I’ve said before. If my son said that I wrote a lot under the name of Q on signposts, and his son did also, and they often quoted things I wrote here, to me that would count for more than someone in 2000 years analysing some things written and asserting that it couldn’t have been me.
    ANd I can imagine people doing this. e.g. Q would never had agreed with Bones, or said something nice about him when we know he called him a complete idiot over here.

    or “this post here couldn’t be Q because he never used this verb” – which is what people do when they doubt authorship of Paulin letters etc.

    So, before I get back to specifics, let me just say (in case it isn’t obvious) that I first take the words of Jesus as being his, and I will first take the traditional line of authorship and dating from the people who lived in the first three centuries.)

    I’m probably a strange kind of charismatic because I’m intrigued by the writings of the Apostolic fathers etc.

    But in the end, no, I am not willing to stake my life on the traditional views of dating and authorship.

    I also think it’s valid for you to present your ideas, and I also think it’s good for young (and old) pentecostals/evangelicals etc to be exposed to modern Biblical scholarship.

    Finally, I’m impressed that you’re studying and with the scholarly way you write. And a little jealous! lol

  8. Interesting Because, *The Righteous Will Live By Faith*.
    So we, as-well ,have put our faith in Christ Jesus, So that we may be justified, by faith in Christ!
    And not by observing the law, because by observing the law, know one will be justified.

  9. The Catholic Encyclopedia is also good for presentation of traditional views.

    (For everything from authorship to how history should rate Martin Luther!)

  10. Catholics on Martin Luther…that should be fair and balanced! Lol. Actually I do go to the Catholic Encyclopedia quite often. As you’d be aware, I am partial to some Catholic doctrine.

    Did you hear that the Pope has a thousand cats running around the Vatican? Yeah, apparently he’s a Cat(o)holic

  11. I found the following article interesting because it accepts the differences between ancient authorship and modern, but comes down for the traditional view of who the primary authors were.

    Not surprisingly, ancient views about ‘authorship’ are not quite the same as modern views which assume ‘individual’ authors for almost all documents that aren’t collections of essays by some group of scholars. However in ancient collectivistic cultures this was not the norm. Many, if not most ancient documents were anthological in character— a compilation of traditions from various different persons and ages through time. This was true about collections of laws, proverbs, songs, religious rituals, and stories as well. We should not be surprised in the least in reading through the book of Proverbs that all of a sudden in a book ascribed to Solomon, we have in Prov. 30 the sayings of Agur, or in Prov. 31 the sayings of King Lemuel, whoever he may have been. Or again, the psalms are compilations from various different ages, some are probably songs of David, but some are songs for or dedicated to David, some are composed by others still. It is a mistake to evaluate ancient documents as if they were just like modern documents, and this applies to NT documents as well, in various regards.

    http://benwitherington.blogspot.com.au/2009/04/bart-interrupted-part-four.html

  12. Ben is one of the foremost Biblical Scholars in the world – and he’s one of us – he’s an Australian.

    We accept, it seems, the premise that we can’t use 21st Century eyes to view 1st century documents – but for the most part modern Christians and bible students write, think and believe as if each believer was running around from the day after Jesus died with a fully printed King James Bible.

    The beginning and end of Mark are points in case regarding what Ben is talking about; believed to be later additions to the text…more so the ending is recognised almost universally as such, but the beginning is also thought more and more to be a later addition as well.

  13. “but for the most part modern Christians and bible students write, think and believe as if each believer was running around from the day after Jesus died with a fully printed King James Bible.”

    That’s probably true for some, but just remember there are plenty of conservative bible scholars who understand that this wasn’t the case, but still accept the traditional views of authorship for many reasons.

    I must admit though I was quite taken aback when I first found out that the original King James Bible included the apocrypha.

    Not sure many “King James Only” people know that.

    Just remember though folks that not all modern scholars who disagree with the traditional view are at all in agreement about new testament authorship.

  14. Wazza, that quote is of course correct, but the “ancients” in the case of Mark said that Mark was written by Mark. It’s still up to the modern scholars (including Greg) to present a really convincing case that the church fathers were all mistaken or deceived, or deliberately trying to validate the Gospel of Mark.

    Also, that quote is covering a lot of territory – from Proverbs to the 1st century (or 2nd century for the modern scholars among you).

  15. Wow, isn’t this great. Greg, Wazza, me….even Bones chipped in, and so far it’s been civil.

    See, maybe we CAN pull this off! lol

  16. My commenting on this blog does not signify that I agree that the takeover was legit.

    Q, I think if you read Ben Witherington’s whole article, he is saying that he agrees with the authorship traditionally ascribed to the Gospels and letters.

    However it is more complex than would be assumed nowadays. Paul for example used scribes, and depending on their seniority they could take dictation or they could write whole passages which would then be reviewed by Paul.

    In Galatians 6, Paul emphasises a point by saying that:

    See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!

    It seems that Paul wrote much of his letter with the help of scribes, but when a particularly important point had to be made, he wrote it himself.

    Ben argues that scribes also regularly used other sources, with the main source being identified as the author.

  17. Well you are welcome to comment – however let’s be clear, this wasn’t a take over – Steve and I were the only administrators and he left, I decided to clean the cupboards and give us a fresh start – totally legit, just not well received by you of course..and I can understand why, you lost article posting privileges – and that’s what they were, privileges -not rights, not absolutes, privileges. This is not MY blog, it is still OUR blog – and when the dust settles and we’ve all gotten used to being polite and posting on track, well then I’ll review who can post articles. That however may not be for some time.

    Now to your comment:

    I think that the authorship of any of the Gospels is up in the air – it is simply not possible to assume that Papias is 100% correct in attributing authorship to Mark. However – he was writing around the turn of the century – was supposed to have been a disciple of John’s and heard directly from people who had spoken to still living disciples, such as the daughters of Philip.

    The trouble with trusting him on Mark is this: If he is right on Mark, he is most likely right on Matthew who he says wrote his gospel in Hebrew, however the gospel of Matthew that we have doesn’t contain Greek language in the style one would expect from a translation. So, if he is right – then the gospel we have now and attribute to Matthew could not be the one he is referring to.

    However – it could be that Matthew wrote down the saying of Jesus and someone else took those sayings and then created a gospel out of them; the gospel we now have that is attributed to Matthew -but isn’t written by him.

    As to Mark – there is no real reason not to accept Papias word on this – however it is nowhere hear absolutely certain – however it is up to the ones who deny it to provide the proof, not the other way round

  18. Wrong, you may have the keys to the house, but it dosent mean you have the right to do anything you like with it or to lock other people out.

    Its not your house.

    You have to answer for your actions ethically just as anyone else does. Especially if you claim to be a Christian. You cant just say “I’m the administrator, I can do anything I like – move on.”

  19. In any case you’re the only one arguing and you and Bones were the problem, if someone responsible comes along and earns their way to posting I’ll let them, but mate, being administrator means that sometimes I have to administrate! You don’t like the way I’ve done that, fair enough, but it is the way it is.

  20. What did I do that was a problem? Why do you say that Bones and I were “the problem”

    It seems to me there were other people in the argument, and some of them stepped over the line several times.

    What have I done that caused a problem?

  21. I think if you are going to make a decision like that you should at least explain to me what I have been accused of.

    Then natural justice would dictate that you would give me a warning before censoring me.

    I do agree that I was relentlessly arguing against Steve. Steve was relentless as always in his arguing against me, and he stepped over the line in his comments against Bones, for which he apologised.

    I simply dont agree however that Bones and I were “the problem”

  22. I’ve already told you why and the how is very simple to work out, but if you dont want to understand I cant make you.

  23. Dude, I’m not apologising for doing my job as an administrator, no matter how much you whine and moan. I’m not convinced your authoring would be good for this site. Convince me otherwise.

  24. “or they could write whole passages which would then be reviewed by Paul.”

    Can you show me the conclusive evidence for that statement please.

  25. Greg, I don’t have to convince you of anything. You have to justify what you have done.

    Your role or job does not excuse you from that, even though you think it gives you absolute rights and dictatorial powers. It does not.

  26. OK then – I’ve sent you an email you have your authorship privileges back again – however we are not going to go back down the road of political anti – anyone not us type of posts. If these type return I will delete them and rescind your privileges.

  27. I’m afraid I honestly dont understand. You have just put up an anti-Christian right article.

    Can you give me an example of the type of post that would not be acceptable?

  28. No, I just don’t think I have been particularly political in my posts. I havent attacked any side of politics for the sake of it.

    The one post you really objected to was “Calvin and American Exceptionalism” but that was about Calvanist theology and how that affected America’s view of itself. It was well received by the other regulars, and provoked the least controversy of most recent posts.

    If I don’t know where the line is, I cant be sure that I won’t overstep it.

  29. Q “or they could write whole passages which would then be reviewed by Paul.”

    Can you show me the conclusive evidence for that statement please.

    I don’t have conclusive evidence, however there are clues

    Eg Romans 16:22

    I Tertius, who wrote this letter, greet you in the Lord.

    It dosent say “Tertius greets you” . Tertius is happy to but in and send his own greeting in the middle of Pauls letter.

  30. Most consider Tertius to be an amanuensis.

    That’s completely different to writing content which is then reviewed and okayed.

  31. True, but it points to a different attitude to the concept of authorship than would be used today.

    Even if he was taking dictation, he feels OK about putting in his own greeting in amongst Paul’s.

    Is it then possible that he interpolated other sentences into the text?

    If this was the common practice at the time, then the onus would be on people to prove that Paul’s letters were all strictly dictated by him.

  32. No. You’re making way too much out of that.

    imho

    To me there is a huge difference between Pauldictating a letter which is written by someone who is given permission to basically “Say hello”, than in asserting that someone else (or several people) wrote a letter.

    And that’s the big issue here.

    It’s one thing to be allowed to say hi, it’s another to question whether maybe he was given a few chapters to write.

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